ABRAMS - At the BP station in Abrams, just off of Highway 41, Bob Nimmer is busy packing bags of ice into the gutted deer carcasses in his trailer, keeping them cool in the warm, 50 degree weather.
"The first one, my son shot opening morning," said Nimmer of New Franken. "And of course, then this morning, I went out early and I shot one."
Nimmer's been hunting in Wisconsin for about the past 34 years and remembers the relationship he and his father had with the DNR – then called the Wisconsin Conservation Department.
"We had a good relationship with the authorities," he said.
While Nimmer does not say he, nor his father, ever had a bad relationship with the DNR, he's noticing recent improvements.
"However, I think that, in recent years, I think that they've opened up a lot more to listen to what the hunters have to say."
On Monday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources released preliminary gun deer season numbers showing more than 134,000 deer were harvested during opening weekend, up 19 percent from 2011.
The DNR partially attributes the increase in harvest registration numbers due to the warmer weather.
It also says a total of 614,435 gun deer licenses were sold before the start of the season Saturday, up 2 percent from last year.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp stopped by the FOX 11 studios to talk about the ongoing gun deer season.
Stepp says a part of those license increases is due to two reasons: first-time hunters and veteran hunters returning to the woods.
"There's a lot of excitement across the state. I'm hearing from hunters who are getting back involved again after checking out for a while," said Stepp.
Stepp says there's been a disconnect with the agency and those hunters. She says the DNR is much different than it was ten years ago; now putting more weight on what hunters have to say and changing the way it communicates with hunters.
Stepp says by reaching out to veteran hunters and new hunters, it will improve and further preserve the deer hunting traditions in the state.
"I kid with our folks internally and I say, we're really good at data dumping, but people want to know, 'what does it mean to them,' personally? What does it mean to their experience in the woods? What are they going to see when they're out there participating?"
Another source of change comes from the suggestions and recommendations the state's Whitetail Deer Trustee James Kroll released in July.
"We've been really trying to address a lot of the ideas he put forward," said Stepp.
Kroll's 82-page report recommended ending such things as the population estimates and suggested working with various groups to develop deer management strategies for the future.
"I would continue to encourage them to have an open mind to all of us hunters out there when it comes to making new policy, if that's going to be coming down the pike," said Nimmer.
As for what this gun deer harvest has in store for the state, Stepp hopes it's better than last.
Stepp says it's going to take time to make statute or rule changes, but wants hunters to know in order to have a dialogue about those changes, it requires two or more people.
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